Halloween and the Evolution of the Final Girl

The soft reboot of Halloween is a film very much in conversation with John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. There are several scenes, especially in the second half, that mirror shots from the first film while swapping places between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the predator and the prey. The film is aware of the Final Girl tropes, a term first defined by Carol J. Clover, and this time, the Final Girl is turned into the predator instead of the prey. In doing this, the film explores the trauma Strode has endured after her encounter with Michael 40 years earlier, and though it is not the first film to have this type of story, it does make the reboot feel relevant  after a string of subpar sequels throughout the years.

Clover’s definition of the Final Girl was first presented in her seminal work Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. She studied slasher films from the 1970s and 1980s and came to a few conclusions. Sexual transgressors of both genders are punished and killed. Think of Lynda (P.J. Soles) in the original Halloween, who is killed soon after having sex with her boyfriend, Bob (John Michael Graham). Any of the sex-crazed teens in the Friday the 13th series serve as another example. Clover adds that the male killers, including Michael Myers, have an oedipal psychosis, thus a majority of their victims are female. She notes that Michael’s sexual anger towards his sister, Judith, drives him to kill her and a string of sister surrogates. Furthermore, the camera lingers on the deaths of the female victims much longer than that of the males.

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Lynda (P.J. Soles) about to meet her fate in the original Halloween

The Final Girl, Clover says, stares death in the face, and she is either rescued or kills the slasher herself. What made a film like Halloween especially unique was the way it disrupted traditional narrative structure. In analyzing structure and point of view, Clover references Laura Mulvey’s definition of the male gaze and cinematic narrative structure, specifically that the male drives the story’s action and the point of view is associated with him. Films like Halloween were different because the spectator identified with the Final Girl and eventually saw everything through her point of view. She was also the most developed psychologically. To underscore this point, Clover analyzes the closet scene in Halloween, writing,

As the killer slashes and stabs the closet door—we see this from her inside perspective—she bends a hanger into a weapon, and, when he breaks the door down, stabs him in the eye. Given the drift in just the four years between Texas Chain Saw and Halloween –from passive to active defense—it is no surprise that the films following Halloween present Final Girls who not only fight back but do so with ferocity and even kill the killer on their own, without help from the outside (37).

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Laurie Strode hiding in the closet in Halloween. The camera shows her point of view.

Lastly, Clover theorizes that  Final Girls adapt masculine characteristics to defeat the killer and to fulfill a traditional Western narrative of the hero. The Final Girl is boyish, and she has a general competence with practical matters. She seizes the killer’s phallic weapon, such as Michael’s kitchen knife, to defeat him. Of this narrative trope, Clover writes,

It is no surprise, in light of these developments, that the Final Girl should show signs of boyishness. Her symbolic phallicization, in the last scenes, may or may not proceed at root from the horror of lack on the part of the audience and maker. But it certainly proceeds from the need to bring her in line with epic laws of Western narrative tradition—the very unanimity of which bears witness to the historical importance, in popular culture, of the literal representation of heroism in male form—and it proceeds no less from the need to render the relocated gaze intelligible to an audience conditioned by the dominant cinematic apparatus (60-61).

Halloween 2018 stands apart from its predecessor and other slasher films from that period because unlike its predecessors, our association does not eventually shift to the Final Girl. Unlike the original Halloween, which opens with a young Michael Myers’ gaze as he is about to murder his sister, the latest film is essentially Laurie’s story from the outset. The opening scene focuses on Michael, unmasked and shackled in a prison yard, but it is Laurie Strode who carries the film. She is immediately depicted as the hunter and predator, and in some of the first scenes, we see her wooded house, complete with a hideout shelter, cameras, and dozens of guns.

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Even through her dialogue, Laurie makes clear that she will hunt and stalk him this time, saying at one point, “He is a killer, but he will be killed tonight.” This idea is reinforced when we see Laurie firing rounds of ammo outside of her home, shooting mannequins in the head. She is armed and ready to confront Myers.

In that regard, and unlike earlier slasher films, there is no symbolic phallicization that needs to occur later in the film. Laurie is in possession of a stockpile of traditionally masculine weapons before Myers ever touches a knife after he crashes a transport bus and escapes to Haddonfield.

The reversal of the predator/prey dichotomy is underscored even more by the scenes that director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride chose to mirror from the original film. When Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is in class, Laurie waits outside of the school, and Allyson meets her gaze. In the original film, when Laurie is in the classroom, Michael stands outside, stalking her before suddenly vanishing. The roles here are reversed.

Near the conclusion of the film, Laurie hunts Michael through her house, and she searches for him in closets very similar to the closet where he tormented her in the original film before she stabbed him with a hanger. In the new film, Laurie is the one stalking him, not the other way around. Lastly, when Michael pushes Laurie off a balcony, nearly killing her, the scene echoes the ending of the original film. When he looks down, she is gone, determined to get back up and kill him.

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Laurie hunting Michael

It is no coincidence then that mirrors and windows are a reoccurring symbol in the film. Most importantly, when Laurie first sees Michael after his escape, it is while she stands outside of a house in Haddonfield and catches a glimpse of him through a bedroom window. His face is reflected in a mirror. The mirror image returns throughout several scenes and highlights the change of roles and the similarities between Michael and Laurie, how they were both predator and prey between both films. Another interpretation is that Laurie’s obsession with confronting Michael has made her monstrous in that it has walled her off from her family and any other type of meaningful relationship.

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Laurie’s first encounter with Michael in Halloween 2018, seen through a window and reflection in a mirror.

Halloween 2018’s other concern is the presentation of female trauma. As already stated, Halloween 2018 is not the only film that addresses trauma of the Final Girl. In fact, it has already been addressed in the franchise’s previous entries. Rob Zombie explored this in Halloween II, and it was addressed rather extensively in Halloween H20. However, in the age of #MeToo and the Kavanaugh hearings, specifically the powerful image of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford raising her hand, about to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee composed of nearly all white men, Laurie Strode’s updated character is especially resonant against the backdrop of current events. The scar on her upper arm from the time Michael slashed her 40 years earlier is a physical manifestation of her trauma, a mark that won’t go away, no matter how many times her family tells her to move on from the past.

As the story unfolds, the viewer learns what happened to Laurie since her first encounter with Michael. She lost custody of her daughter, and, during the present events of the film, has a difficult time maintaining a relationship with her granddaughter. Her scars are both deep and lasting, reverberating for decades. Additionally, people view her as a wingnut, especially since she became a survivalist. While interviewed by two British pod casters who label themselves “investigative journalists,” Laurie questions why they’re willing to humanize Michael, despite the fact he killed her friends, but view her as a “basket case” because she’s been twice divorced. This is one of the smartest scenes in the film and raises questions about how we treat and view female survivors.

The film makes a broader critique of masculinity. Two of the earliest deaths are that of a father and son. The son tells his father that he wants to continue dance lessons. The father, a hunter, scoffs. When they encounter the crashed transport bus that was carrying Michael, the father, eager to grab a gun and investigate, winds up dead. The son, who initially broke from a traditional masculine role by expressing his interest in dance over hunting, ultimately follows in the father’s footsteps by exploring the scene and arming himself with a rifle. Of course, this does not end well. It’s one of the most brutal deaths in the film and one of the most haunting set pieces.

One character who tries to fill a traditionally masculine role, Ray (Toby Huss), husband of Laurie’s daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), is the biggest comic relief and essentially impotent. When we’re first introduced to him, he is slathering mouse traps with peanut butter, tending to a rodent problem, a task usually assigned to the male. However, he fails to do this well and ends up getting peanut butter all over his pants, his crotch area specifically. Later, when Laurie warns Karen to prepare for Michael’s arrival, Ray shouts that it is his house and his to defend, if need be. However, both Karen and Laurie ignore him and talk over him. Laurie arms him with a gun far smaller than the rifles she possesses and urges Karen to use.

The rest of the men in the film are generally ineffective against Michael’s wrath. There is no Dr. Loomis-type character to save anyone, and unlike the original film, Laurie doesn’t need his assistance to defeat the boogeyman. Michael’s latest doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a former protege of Loomis, is morally ambiguous, to say the least, and has some weird fascination with Myers, an urge to understand his power and what it’s like to murder. Unlike Loomis, he doesn’t believe that Myers is pure evil, a force beyond reason. Even the police officers are generally helpless against Myers. Though females are killed in the film, a majority of the kills happen to men. The camera lingers on their brutalized bodies, a reversal from the early tropes identified by Clover.

In the preface to the Princeton Classics Edition of Men, Women, and Chainsaws, Clover commented upon the more recent state of the slasher genre and the Final Girl, essentially speaking out against how the term has been misconstrued, in her view, and what has happened to the genre following the initial publication of her book. Essentially, she states that the Final Girl has been turned into a sketch. She writes,

But a sketch is only a sketch. Fill this one out with the dimensions of affect, identification, pacing, and audience, and the picture gets kinkier. Yes, the Final Girl brings down the killer in the final moments, but consider how she spent a good hour of the film up to then being chased and almost caught, hiding, running, falling, rising in pain and fleeing again, seeing her friends mangled and killed by weapon-wielding killers, and so on. ‘Tortured survivor’ might be a better term than ‘hero.’ Or, given the element of last minute luck ‘accidental survivor.’ Or, as I call her, ‘victim hero,’ with an emphasis on ‘victim.’ It’s a great moment when she stops the killer, but to imagine that her, and our, experience of the film reduces to that last-minute reversal is to truly miss the point (x).

Clover’s concern regarding the Final Girl and what others have said about her theory is understandable. Yet, Laurie, Karen, and Allyson Strode in Halloween 2018 don’t spend the film being chased or hiding, running, and falling. In this film, the roles are totally reversed. Laurie Strode is the predator and Michael her prey.

This is not to say that Halloween 2018 is a perfect film. It certainly isn’t. The younger Strodes are generally underdeveloped and aren’t given much to do until the final act. Hopefully, a sequel remedies this. There is a plot twist near the final act that nearly stops the story in its tracks. Additionally, what does it say about our culture to have a new Halloween movie where guns are ever-present and the only way to confront Michael is by amassing firearms? That said, at the very least, the reboot tries to do something different with the Final Girl tropes, while adding yet another dimension to Laurie Strode, one that feels especially relevant for 2018.

 

Some additional suggested reading:

Men, Women, and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover

“A Tale of Two Lauries: Trauma in ‘Halloween H20’ and 2018’s ‘Halloween,”  by Bloody Disgusting

“A Raged-Filled Halloween for Our Time” by Dawn Keetley/Horror Homeroom

“The New Halloween Re-imagines the Franchise as a Tale of Maternal Warrior Women” by Vox

The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle: Final Girls and a New Hollywood Formula by Alexandra West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apostle, Folk Horror, and Masculinity

Netflix’s continues adding to its ever-growing horror collection. One of its latest entries is Apostle, directed by Gareth Evans.  Several reviews have already compared the film to 1973’s The Wicker Man, since  both films are rooted in the folk horror subgenre, deal with religious fanaticism, and essentially build their own unsettling worlds, in each case a small, remote island. Yet, where Apostle breaks from some other films in the subgenre is in its critique of masculinity.

Apostle is set in 1905, and generally, little backstory is given to the island where the protagonist, Thomas (Dan Stevens), winds up in a quest to rescue his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys). In one of the film’s most harrowing scenes, we come to realize why Thomas has abandoned religion. He was tortured when he tried to introduce Christianity to Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. As Thomas is tormented before a burning cross, no God comes to his rescue. This is just one of the many scenes in which poor Thomas is put through the meat grinder.

The other men in the film, namely Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) and later Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), use religion to keep the island’s inhabitants in line and to subjugate women. At one point, when Malcolm claims that Jennifer is a traitor, he parades her through the village in shackles and leaves her outside where children poke her with sticks and yank at her hair. The violence she suffers at the hands of men is only exacerbated as the film progresses.

These men also exercise strict and harsh control over women’s bodies. For example, Quinn cuts a baby out of his daughter’s womb and then uses a medieval torture device on her lover because he didn’t want them to be together and he certainly didn’t want his daughter to have the baby. Quinn is the film’s most pronounced example of ruthless, unchecked patriarchy, and his violence exceeds that of Malcolm’s.

The island, meanwhile, is inhabited by a goddess, and Malcolm claims to speak for her. He also feeds her animal and human blood, and yet, he can’t fathom why crops keep failing. The goddess, who seems to be nature personified, suffers because of the men who rule the island. They try to claim her for their own and tame her, but under their firm hand, any plant that starts to green soon withers and browns.

Apostle trailer:

 

Initially, Thomas is afraid of the goddess, and his first encounter with her is one of the most chilling images in the film. She is as decayed and creepy as the woman who inhabits room 237 in The Shining.  However, near the end of the film, he kneels to her and better understands her story, specifically that she isn’t so monstrous as he once assumed. Of all of the men in the film, Thomas has the most connection to the women. He comes to island because of  Jennifer, he forms a semi-romantic relationship with one of the islanders, Andrea (Lucy Boynton), and he eventually understands and sympathizes with the goddess. It should be noted, too, that both Jennifer and Andrea have their own agency, especially near the conclusion.

In the final shot, as Jennifer and Andrea escape the island via boat, Thomas and Malcolm, who evolves after witnessing Quinn’s brutality, sit together on a cliff as the women leave. New life finally grows, after Thomas and Malcolm’s blood has been spilled. There are a few ways to interpret this last scene. Maybe nothing grew on the island when the goddess was fed human blood because the island and its people were so tainted under Malcolm and then Quinn’s rule. Maybe new life grows because Thomas and eventually Malcolm transcend the negative aspects of masculinity with the help of women. Because of that, new life could flourish on the island, or maybe the cycle of life and death simply returns because the goddess is free, so to speak.

Apostle is a solid entry to the folk horror subgenre, especially for some of its critiques of masculinity. In that regard, it has some commonality to Dave Eggers’ 2015 film The Witch, which also has a menacing patriarchal figure, the father of a Puritan family who is so rooted in religious dogma and superstition that he suspects his eldest daughter is a witch as she comes of age sexually. Both films are awash in cool tones that establish the bleak atmosphere, especially as the crops fail and the violence heightens. The gore in Apostle is excessive at times, especially torture to animals, and the film could have been cut and edited slightly more, but overall, it is another noteworthy addition to this year’s already strong horror list.

Recommended: Check out this article over at Horror Homeroom about some other films that will help you better understand Apostle.

 

Recommendations for Netflix Horror

As a follow-up to my post on recommended horror podcasts, I wanted to offer a list of my horror picks to stream on Netflix this October, or anytime for that matter! I tried not to include many picks that made my list last year, and I tried to highlight international and independent films.

The Witch (2015): This is one of my favorite horror movies of the last five years. Set in 16th Century Puritan America, this film is a slow burn,  filled with unsettling, bleak imagery. At its heart, The Witch has a lot to say about female empowerment and uses the trope of witchcraft/fear of the female to do so. Oh, and it has Black Phillip! Director Robert Eggers is likely to be a staple in the horror world for years to come. His next project is another horror film entitled The Lighthouse, and he’s working on a remake of Nosferatu.

The Wailing (2016): Netflix has a few solid Korean horror films. The Wailing tops my list. It is loaded with biblical imagery, and even though it’s nearly three hours long, it never feels bogged down. The film takes its time establishing its world and characters, but it gradually builds to a horrifying conclusion. It also has one of the best exorcism scenes.

 

 

Raw (2016): It’s fair to say that the horror genre still needs more female directors. That can probably be said about film in general. Director Julia Ducournau is on my list of young horror directors to watch. Raw borrows a lot from the French Extremity films of the early 2000s, namely in the way that it uses gore and color. This is a film to watch more than once, if you can stomach the cannibalism. Is it a metaphor for rape and survival? A female coming of age story? I don’t have all the answers, but I know that I enjoy this film more each time I see it.

Veronica (2017): Based on a true story about a teenage girl who was allegedly possessed, Veronica is directed by Paco Plazo, who also directed REC and REC 2. Watch them if you haven’t. So far, this has generally been a polarizing film, but I really enjoyed it. You generally feel for Veronica, especially when she’s burdened with taking care of her siblings, due to her absentee father and an overworked single mom.

Hush (2016): This made my list last year, but I’m including it again. The film centers around a deaf woman who is stalked and terrorized by a masked intruder for no apparent reason. What this film does with sound is the most unique aspect of the film, thus making it stand out from other home invasion horror flicks. Oh, and this was directed by Mike Flanagan, who directed “The Haunting of Hill House” series for Netflix, which has been all the buzz and streams later this month.

Under the Shadow (2016): Set in a 1980s, war-torn Iran, the story focus on a mother and a son who confront an evil invading their home. This film is heavy in its imagery and metaphors regarding war. It’s one of my favorite films of the last few years.

The Transfiguration (2017): This takes a lot of classic vampire tropes and flips them on their head. It also references what came before, including Let the Right One In, Dracula, and Martin. The film follows a troubled teen named Milo who thinks he is a vampire. Eventually, he forms a bond with another loner, Sophie. What’s reality and fantasy blurs as the film progresses.

 

Train to Busan (2016): Another Korean horror film makes my list. This is about zombies. zombies on a train! It doesn’t totally reinvent the zombie flick, but it does have characters that you give a damn about, and the setting makes for some unique and creative kills. James Wan plans to produce an American-made remake. We’ll see how that pans out…

The Ritual (2017): A British Netflix horror film based on a novel by the same name. What I really like about this film is its setting, the woods that engulf the group of friends who reunite after the tragic death of a friend. Oh, and the monster that comes in the final act is pretty cool, too.

Classics available to stream on Netflix: Hellraiser, It Follows, The Babadook, Children of the Corn, The Descent, Tucker & Dale v. Evil, The Conjuring, The Sixth Sense, The Strangers, Cabin Fever, Teeth, Seven, Interview with the Vampire

 

Review: Hold the Dark (2018)

In Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier uses the tight confines of a dingy punk rock club in rural America to create isolation and tension as a band is besieged by neo-Nazis. At one point, the group is hauled up in the confines of a sound check room with no access to the outside world. Sauldnier’s latest film, Netflix’s Hold the Dark, contains sprawling Alaskan landscapes and stunning cinematography that creates bleakness and despair. The violence is as brutal and sudden as some of the scenes in Green Room. However, the film strays into too much ambiguity near the halfway point and sinks beneath its own weight.

Hold the Dark is based on the 2014 novel by William Giraldi, and it traces the journey/mission of writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), who is summoned by Medora Slone (Riley Keough) to investigate the loss of her son, who was allegedly killed by a pack of wolves. The animals are also blamed for the death of other children in the village. The opening act  is the strongest, especially the scenes between Wright and Keough, whose acting is top notch. The dialogue is well-crafted and builds a foreboding sense of darkness that can’t be kept at bay, especially when Medora says, “The wilderness here is inside us…Inside everything.” The early scenes are isolating and often feature long shots of the all-consuming Alaskan wilderness, sometimes with the characters set small against the backdrop. One of the most tense scenes occurs when Core stumbles down a snowy hill and encounters the pack of wolves, their snouts bloodied after devouring one of their own, a cub. It’s a survival of the fittest/kill or be killed type of world.

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Russell Core (Jeremy Wright) and Medora Slone (Riley Keough)

Following the opening act, once Medora flees the scene and after it’s discovered that she may have been the one who killed her son, the rest of the film loses its momentum and veers off track, especially once her husband, Vernon Slone (Alexander Skarsgård), returns home from Iraq after getting shot in the neck. He kills and kills some more, as he searches for his wife. There were several missed opportunities and potential story lines left uncharted. The idea of isolation and loneliness caused by Vernon Slone’s Iraq tour is generally unexplored. Imagine being a military spouse, left to raise your child alone in Alaska. The tension between what the Native people believe about nature and the wolves and what police believe, mainly that there is no greater, metaphysical force at work, is interesting and deserved far more attention. Early on, the idea that there is some connection between Medora Slone and the wolves is lightly introduced but also underdeveloped. I had hoped the film would have explored some connection between the feminine and nature and how Medora is viewed by the villagers and the police.

Watch the trailer for Hold the Dark:

 

The film’s final act, when Core eventually confronts Vernon Slone, is the most frustrating. Yes, they come face to face and one walks away, so to speak, but the film’s conclusion is utterly ambiguous. Nothing is really resolved. It takes over two hours to build to such a climax, only to veer off into a strange direction with no finality.

The acting and cinematography are the highlights of Hold the Dark, and fans who liked the level of gore and violence in Green Room won’t be disappointed with some of the brutal scenes in Saulnier’s latest effort. However, the film’s plot comes unglued around the halfway point, and anyone who sticks around for the ending will probably find it underwhelming.

 

Happy October! Favorite Horror Podcasts

Happy October! Finally, the Halloween season has arrived. On the East Coast, the temperatures have dipped and pumpkin flavored food and drinks are ever-present. I write a lot about horror films on this blog, but I thought I would share a list of some of my favorite horror-themed podcasts. For the most part, all of these deal with the horror film, but they also touch upon Gothic and horror literature and other forms of media.

In the coming days, I’ll also share a list of some of my favorite horror films that are currently streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, just as I did last year. For now, here’s my list of horror podcasts I think you should check out.

Faculty of Horror: Hosted by Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West, Faculty of Horror is one of my favorite podcasts. Primarily, it looks at horror films through an academic lens, but the content is generally accessible, engaging, and interesting. The podcast has over 60 episodes, and all of them are achieved on the website.  Films covered include classics like Psycho and The Thing to more recent films such as Funny Games and The Witch. The show notes include a reading list, featuring the articles and books mentioned in the show.

Hellbent for Horror: This podcast is hosted by S.A. Bradley, a self-proclaimed “champion” of the horror genre in all of its forms. What makes this podcast unique is that Bradley typically picks a theme, such as the woods/nature, family relations/bad blood, religion, and applies it to various horror films. This podcast is less “academic” than some of the others on my list, but it includes a nice analysis of the genre. Some episodes feature interviews with authors, fans, and experts, thus giving space to other voices.  With over 70 episodes archived to date, there is a lot to listen to.

Horror Pod Class: I discovered this podcast recently, and it’s one of my favorites. It features two high school teachers talking about the genre as a whole. They’re knowledgeable and passionate. Show notes include titles of the articles/films/books discussed during each episode.

Final Girls Horrorcast: This podcast is really unique because it only features reviews of horror films available on streaming services. The reviewers, Aimee and Carly, are funny and offer interesting takes on some well-known and lesser-known genre films. This is a great podcast to check out when you’re looking for something to stream.

Inside the Exorcist: Hosted by Mark Ramsey, the dude who hosts LORE, “Inside the Exorcist” is a multi-part podcast that digs deep into the layered story behind The Exorcist. The first few episodes focus on the 1940s case of the Georgetown boy who was allegedly possessed and served as the inspiration for William Peter Blatty’s novel. The rest of the episodes focus on the stories behind the filming, including casting, and the cultural legacy of the film. This is one of the best behind-the-scenes accounts I’ve encountered on one of the most canonized films of the genre. Ramsey also created podcasts about Psycho and Jaws, so check those out as well.

Happy listening!

 

 

 

Candyman Reboot?

The horror world has been abuzz over the news that Jordan Peele is interested in remaking Candyman, the 1992 film about a murdered slave, Candyman (Tony Todd), who will appear if you repeat his name in the mirror. It’s unclear if Peele would actually direct the film or produce it, but regardless, though Candyman is not that old, its themes of gentrification and the past never staying dead are deserving of an update. After the success of Get Out, Peele is the right person to  oversee the project if it moves forward.

Candyman is a film that I really like and recently re-watched. Directed by Bernard Rose and based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden,” it is  atmospheric and haunting. Set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing project, as opposed to Liverpool, the setting of Barker’s story, the film is moody and deals with issues of class, race, and gentrification without being preachy or over-the-top. Of the filming location and housing project, Rose said that it is “an incredible arena for a horror movie because it was a place of such palpable fear.” Yet, who and what are we supposed to fear? These are questions the film asks. The protagonist, Helen Lye (Virginia Madsen), is a white graduate student interested in researching folk tales and myths, which brings her to the housing project and the history of the Candyman myth. Her arrival poses a lot of questions. Is she merely using the housing project and its impoverished residents to further her own agenda? Would she bother to care about any of the residents if not for her research and her personal goal of academic noteriety? Regardless, Helen forces her way into the housing project, snapping photo after photo, taking what she needs in the process. Residents clearly know that she doesn’t belong, but that doesn’t stop her from invading their space. At one point, she literary crawls through a hidden hole to enter another apartment where a murder occurred.

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(Helen played by Virginia Madsen)

Candyman’s story, meanwhile, uses tropes found throughout African American literature and film. He is a murdered slave who fell in love with a white woman and was brutally killed as a result. The past, so to speak, never really stays dead, and once Candyman is summoned, he seeks revenge with a bloody hook hand, while speaking in suave Victorian language.  Tony Todd’s performance is one of the real highlights of the film, and it would be hard to find someone to top him.

 

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(Candyman played by Tony Todd)

It is unclear how quickly production will move forward with a Candyman remake, if it happens at all; however, Jordan Peele is the right person to produce or direct the project. Get Out shows that he has a clear understanding of class and race, specifically how they are intertwined. Candyman does not necessarily need a remake, but I would be interested to see Peele’s take.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Mandy (2018)

Imagine a film that contains the Cenobites from Hellraiser, the costumes of Mad Max, and the goriness of Evil Dead. Combine those elements and you have Mandy, a film that is a fun and wild romp, complete with blood-soaked cinematography that feels like a fever-dream and LSD trip through the various layers of hell.

Directed by Panos Cosmatos and set in 1983, Mandy stars Nicolas Cage as wild-eyed, vengeful Red, who tracks down cult members responsible for the brutal murder of his lover, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough). The first quarter of the film takes its time establishing their relationship. They cuddle and watch movies together. They share the bizarre dreams they’ve had, and they seek refuge in the wooded Pacific Northwest, away from whatever is happening to the rest of the world, which we don’t know. The cinematography early in the film features a color palate of mostly greens and blues, reflective of Red and Mandy’s refuge. The colors and wooded scenery are inviting. How can anything bad possibly happen?

The rest of the movie, following Mandy’s murder, is awash in blood and various shades of red. Cage spends most of the film with a blood-splattered face. His facial expressions range from the maniacal to the hilarious to downright furious. The film is not without its one-liners, too. As he murders one of the biker demons summoned by the cult, he calls the creature a “vicious snowflake” and then quips, “you ripped my shirt!”

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Nicolas Cage as Red

Though she’s not in the film long before meeting her demise, Riseborough is noteworthy in her performance as Mandy, especially when she laughs in the face of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache),  a Charlie Manson knock-off who forces her to listen to his terrible music, which causes her to have a laughing fit. Mandy’s resistance shows just how absurd and fragile Sand’s masculinity is. You’re also left wondering if Mandy has some connection to a higher plane, due to the hallucinatory dreams she has and her interest in the occult.

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Andrea Riseborough as Mandy

Mandy is not a perfect film, but my only real complaint is that it doesn’t take enough time building its world. What exists outside of Mandy and Red’s refuge, for instance, and what causes them to seek their own spot in nature? That gripe is minor, though. I assume that years from now, Mandy will be screened at midnight showings, earning applause during certain lines and scenes. There’s even a chainsaw battle in the last 1/3 of the film! Mandy has all the makings of a grind-house classic.